Like most of us, indie rock bands like to try new things once in a while. Case in point: Ra Ra Riot.
This Syracuse-born, melodic collective recently dropped its third studio album, “Beta Love,” which is a departure from its previous, acclaimed albums, 2008’s “The Rhumb Line” and 2010’s “The Orchard.” Whereas the first two albums went for a baroque pop sound, “Beta” has the band delving into synthpop territory.
“I suppose that ‘The Rhumb Line’ and ‘The Orchard’ are more similar and, obviously, as people and musicians and artists, you know, we’re constantly changing,” says violinist Rebecca Zeller, on the phone from Brooklyn. “I think it’s only natural that your sounds evolve as well.”
Zeller and the other members of the band – vocalist Wes Miles, bassist Mathieu Santos, guitarist Milo Bonacci and drummer Kenny Bernard – were simply looking to do something that would challenge them as artists.
“The intent wasn’t to, you know, have a whole new sound or anything like that,” says Zeller. “It was never a direct goal. The goal was to take these songs that we had and to do the best that we could with them and challenge ourselves to do something a bit different.”
According to Zeller, the urge to do something outside the band’s comfort zone was a bit too much for founding member and cellist Alexandra Lawn, who left the band last year. “Yeah, I don’t think it was really a huge surprise to anyone,” she says. “Obviously, we lived together every day. And, so, obviously, there’s a myriad of different reasons and circumstances as to why she left. But I think probably the biggest one was us wanting to do something a little bit different than we had done before.”
For those hoping that Lawn may get back together with her fellow Ra Ra Rioters one day, Zeller says that’s highly unlikely.
“It’s not like a departure for, you know, a record or a hiatus,” she says. “She left the band. I’m sure there’s definitely a possibility that she’ll do something on her own. I can’t imagine that her passion for music would die down. But I don’t really know what her musical plan is.”
Even with one member gone, Zeller and the rest of the band continued to experiment with the sound they were conceiving for “Beta,” calling in producer Dennis Herring (The Hives, Modest Mouse, Elvis Costello) to make sure they were on the right track. “It was really fun to also work with Dennis and kind of sign away for this dream to work within the sound that was developing while we were in the studio,” says Zeller.
“Yeah, it was really fun. It felt more like composing than the process for the other albums.”
Zeller says the band also got inspiration from the works of sci-fi writer William Gibson and inventor/futurist Ray Kurzweil. Considering the electronic-heavy, futuristic feel of the album, that’s not surprising.
“Obviously, William Gibson and Ray Kurzweil influenced ‘Beta Love’ lyrically,” she says. “So a lot of people will get that, but a lot of people won’t. But we’re hoping we put out something that people can really enjoy with us and, I guess, just appreciate it, I suppose.”
How have the fans been responding to the new Ra Ra Riot sound? “So far, the shows have been amazing,” she says. “Fans have already been singing along to the majority of the songs that we’re playing … I think, with everything, a lot of people will like it and some people will be upset that it’s not exactly the same or what people were expecting.”
All in all, Ra Ra Riot hopes that people will respect the choice to walk a different path for the latest release.
“Obviously, it would’ve been pretty easy just to write ‘The Rhumb Line, Part 2’ or ‘The Orchard, Part 2,’ ” says Zeller. “But there’s no challenge in that. And that’s not really rewarding to sort of create something you’ve already done … I think, like anything you put out, you hope people will find a way to connect to it and obviously enjoy it and, I suppose, gain something positive from it.”